Elem. – Astrid Lindgren (Little People, Big Dreams)

Sanchez Vegara, Maria Isabel. Astrid Lindgren. (Little People, Big Dreams). Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020. 978-0-711-25217-2. $15.99 ea. $912.26 set of 66. Unpaged. Grades K-3. 

Astrid Lindgren grew up on a farm in Sweden with her parents and siblings having an idyllic childhood. When she learned to read, however, her world changed and opened up beyond her small farm in Sweden. The book follows Astrid as she grows up and gets married and has children of her own.  Karin, Astrid’s daughter, asked for a story about a girl she had named Pippi Longstocking, and Astrid’s career as an author began! At the end of the book, there is a timeline of Astrid Lindgren’s life including pictures from her life, and more information about Astrid’s life.

THOUGHTS: This is a great introductory biography that is a must have for an elementary school collection, especially with the wide range of biographies to pick from in the series.

Biography          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – Nonsense! : The Curious Story of Edward Gorey

Mortensen, Lori. Nonsense! The Curious Story of Edward Gorey. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-03368-4. Unpaged. $17.99. K-3.

Edward Gorey was an unconventional, eccentric author and illustrator who was known for his dark, bizarre work. This illustrated biography details his life from his childhood through his young adulthood (he served in the army and later attended Harvard) and his subsequent career. The lyrical prose is complemented by sketchy illustrations that are reminiscent of Gorey’s own work. An intriguing and well-written account of Gorey’s life, this book provides an excellent introduction to the subject while simultaneously inspiring readers to learn more about him.

THOUGHTS: If I’m being honest, I had no idea who Edward Gorey was before I read this biography. However, after reading this narrative, I am somewhat fascinated! The book ends with an author’s note about Edward Gorey, stating that his style lives on through works like Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. This title would be perfect to pair with one of those works, or even with one of Gorey’s own works. It would be a stellar addition to classroom libraries and/or elementary nonfiction collections.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit

Marshall, Linda Elovitz. Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit. Unpaged. 978-1-499-80960-2. Little Bee Books, 2020. $17.99. Grades K-3.

This picture book biography of the beloved children’s author begins with her life as a girl growing up in London.  As a child in the city, Beatrix kept busy sketching animals, including her pet rabbit Benjamin Bouncer, but she and her brother yearned for the summer when they would go to her family’s country home and enjoy nature. Beatrix always wanted to do something important with her life and hoped to pursue a career, but this was difficult for women to do at that time. Not to be denied her dream, she self-published The Tale of Peter Rabbit and its popularity led to a contract with a publisher.  Peter Rabbit became a well-known character and her collection of stories grew.  Missing the country, she bought a farm and married.  Fearing that trains and housing plans would destroy the countryside, she began buying more farms and land to preserve it. The author donated over 4000 acres to the National Trust, ensuring that the area looks the same today as it did in her time.  Children will enjoy the charming illustrations done in soft watercolors by Urbinati.  In the back matter, the author explains how a visit to the Lake District was her inspiration for this book. One quibble is that the text would benefit from a photograph of Beatrix Potter and a timeline of her life.

THOUGHTS: This is an interesting biographical portrait, because Marshall writes about Potter’s conservation efforts, an aspect of her life that is often not discussed. This picture book works well as a read aloud and could be used in ecology units or for Women’s History month.  An excellent choice for all elementary collections.

Picture Book Biography          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
921 POTTER or 823.912

MG – The Great Upending

Kephart, Beth. The Great Upending. Atheneum, 2020. 978-1-4814-9156-3. 259 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7. 

Sara has what she needs: her younger brother, Hawk, her parents, the family farm with all its wonder. Hawk is her best friend, and together they navigate life. When a gentleman rents the converted silo on the farm, Sara and Hawk are expressly told to not bother Mister. But, being 12- and 11-years old, they wonder, they spy, they uncover secrets. Sara also has those things in her life she wishes she didn’t have: a drought that is pushing the farm into bankruptcy, a heart condition requiring surgery, and Marfan syndrome, which has caused her to grow taller than her mother already. Sara is tired of being gawked at and whispered about when she is in town, and is miserable about the anxiety and strain her condition puts on her parents. The bankers have turned down a loan application, telling her father that the farm has no value as collateral, leaving the family struggling to find funds for her surgery. This is a secret Sara keeps from Hawk, which begins to put a strain on their relationship. However, the secret the siblings uncover about Mister just may change many lives. This is a lyrically written book first about family, then about the rare condition of Marfan syndrome. Sara’s voice is wonderfully nuanced, as she rockets between being a child and a girl with too many burdens for her age. Her and Hawk’s spying on Mister definitely crosses boundaries, but galvanizes the pair into a wild scheme in which Sara finds purpose and a way to forget about her health issues. Readers will fall in love with Sara and root for a happy ending for everyone.

THOUGHTS: This lovely book addresses a medical condition with which most people will not be familiar. But while Sara’s illness is the nudge that drives the plot, it does not take over. Sara is a memorable character who has Marfan syndrome, not because she has Marfan syndrome. The theme that shines throughout is the closeness of family. This story will linger after the last pages.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. NF – Dangerous Jane; Our Story Begins; American Gothic; The Girl Who Ran

Slade, Suzanne. Dangerous Jane. Peachtree, 2017. 9781561459131. Unpaged. $17.95. Gr. 2-5.
Slade’s work is a simple introduction to the life of Jane Addams, American social worker and peace activist, who founded Hull House, a settlement house for immigrants in Chicago.  Beginning with her early life, the author tells us that Jane became aware of poverty when visiting a poor part of town and vowed to help people in need when she grew up.  On a trip in Europe as a college graduate, she saw poverty in London and visited a settlement house that helped poor people acquire job and literacy skills.  This inspired Jane to return to Chicago and found Hull House.   Later we read that Jane Addams was involved in the peace movement to bring an end to World War l.   Initially, she was scorned for these efforts and was called “Dangerous Jane” by the FBI.  However, by 1931, public opinion became favorable and she earned the Nobel Peace Prize. This picture book biography does not give a lot of details about her other contributions, such as the founding of the NAACP. More information is contained in the author’s note and timeline, where some of the gaps are filled in. The illustrations by Alice Ratterree are done in soft muted watercolors.  However, Jane stands out in every drawing, because she is always pictured wearing bright green, even as a child.  There are two black and white photographs in the back matter.  THOUGHTS: This text serves as a good introduction to the life of this important figure in American history and will make for a great read aloud.  Students wishing to learn more will need to seek additional resources, which the author provides in the bibliography.  This book is a worthy addition to elementary collections.
Picture Book; Biography     Denise Medwick, West Allegheny School District

 

Weissman, Elissa Brent Ed. OUR STORY BEGINS: Your Favorite Authors and Illustrators Share Fun. Atheneum Children’s Books, 2018. 978-1-4814-7208-1. $17.99. 192 pp. Gr. 3-6.

“Everyone’s story begins somewhere.” Authors are inherently able to reminisce about that moment when they felt the power of story start to change their lives. Sometimes it was through the received recognition or struggle or heartache that the seeds to their future careers began. Join Elissa Brent Weissman as she collects individual memories and samples from 26 authors and illustrators and revel in their variety, inspiration, and child-like gifts of bringing stories to life. Kwame Alexander shares a poem he wrote for his mom; several authors (R.J. Palacio and Kathi Appelt among them) share their love of horses and unicorns; Alex Gino shares a sci-fi short story, and Brian Selznick shares some early drawing tips. The selections show diversity of age, geography, and heritage, which provides both windows and mirrors for young readers. Plus, children will have that inspiring and relatable notion that indeed, authors were once kids too!  THOUGHTS: The insights that budding writers’ will gain from this collection cannot be measured. Seeing the editing process and imperfect samples from famous folks allows for many writing mini-lessons. Showing the variety of writing works and styles also gives classes a chance to compare and discuss. Plus, the artwork will inspire doodlers and illustrators alike to grab a pencil or paintbrush and get creating!

800; Literature     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District

 

Wood, Susan and Ross MacDonald. American Gothic: The Life of Grant Wood. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-1-4197-2533-3. $18.95. Unpaged. Gr. 1-4.

Even as a young Iowa farm boy, Grant Wood loved to draw. As he aged, his drawings progressed, and he explored the art culture beyond his midwestern landscape, but in the end, Grant came back to create a vision of the region that he loved. Readers will enjoy learning how Grant came to paint the classic American Gothic and represent common people during the Great Depression. The details of his life are sparse in the story, but the author’s note and timeline at the end help anyone looking to know more. Ross MacDonald provides color-coated images of Wood and his work in an inviting and stylized manner. The farm couple at the center of Grant’s masterpiece would be proud to share their story once more.  THOUGHTS: Although brief, the pages where Grant Wood contemplates his artistic style provide a primer through art history and the approaches that artists take. Impressionism, Cubism, Abstract, and Gothic styles are all depicted. It would be beneficial for budding artists to explore more images of Grant Wood’s art and compare them to the book.

Biography       Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District

 

Yee, Christina, and Frances Poletti. The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, the First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon. Compendium Inc., 2017. 9781943200474. 48 pp. $16.95. Gr. 1-5.

This biography in picture book form is accessible to all ages of readers. Bobbi Gibb could never sit still and loved to run. Even when she was discouraged from all sides–her parents and the admissions people to the Boston Marathon–she did not give up. She trained by running across the country. Ultimately Bobbi ended up sneaking onto the starting line disguised as a boy in a hoodie, her brother’s shorts, and men’s running shoes (they didn’t make women’s at the time, even though it was 1966) and joined the race! THOUGHTS: The watercolor pictures flow perfectly with the poetry verses that express Bobbi’s joy of running. This is a great book to use as a starter for women in sports and discuss which sports still haven’t admitted women yet.

Biography; Picture Book     Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School